We took this shoulder-season cruise to Alaska with crossed fingers, hoping that the weather would be in our favor. We sailed north around the west side of Vancouver Island with hardly a ripple of waves, but as we proceeded north, the clouds lowered, the fog came up and the rain came until we debarked at Juneau the next day. As it turned out, each time we debarked for a tour at each port, the clouds parted, and the sun came out gloriously – we pulled an ace out of the weather deck each day; even in Glacier Bay. As soon as we pulled out of the ports, the clouds and fog were waiting for us, but we didn’t care on the ship.
The ship staff were hard-working and they really put forth an effort to keep us happy. Special kudus for the Summer Palace wait staff and also our room steward and those who made up the cabin each day. We don’t usually go to specialty restaurants and incur the considerable extra cost of doing so. We ate at the Summer Palace every evening. Breakfast was had at the buffet at the Garden Café – you had to get there when it first opened to get a table and avoid the mob. We tried the Blue Lagoon for lunch and the fish and chips were excellent. Only problem is that the 8th floor Blue Lagoon and a specialty restaurant across the way, border the open 7th floor atrium and one time there was an art auction going on at full blast, and another time, they piped a raunchy movie to the big screen in the atrium and turned the volume way up. That made the Blue Lagoon a difficult place to have a quiet lunch.
Port debarkations were not very well handled. On our prior Caribbean cruise, those with NCL tours were assembled in the theater and led off the ship to the tour bus. Not this time, and it was hectic with 2,000 people all trying to get off the ship at once in Juneau. In Skagway, our tour started a couple of hours after we docked, but no one seemed to know how to get off the ship – not even the crew members we asked. All of this added to worries about whether we’d make our tours on time, and I didn’t go on vacation to worry. NCL would be well to consult Disney about crowd control and setting up lines.
We purchased nearly all of our port tours on-line 3 weeks early at the NCL site. All turned out well except the last one. Two Butchart Garden tours out of Victoria were advertised for $69 and $109. The less expensive tour was shown as “sold out” so as we wanted to go, we signed up for more expensive tour which included a city tour. All ok, except that the day before we were to dock in Victoria, flyers were distributed to each stateroom offering a NCL Butchart Garden tour for $49. This really shook my confidence in booking tours with NCL on-line before a cruise. In any event, if you want to see Butchart Gardens, wait till the last minute to sign up for the tour. If you are arriving at port such that it will be evening by the time you reach the Gardens, and you want to go to photograph the flowers, I DO NOT recommend this tour. They said that the Gardens would be all lit up at night, but hardly. Dark is dark.
All in all this was a quite enjoyable cruise despite the problems mentioned above. We signed up for an undetermined cruise within the next four years in exchange for $100 shipboard credit, so we will cruise with NCL again. But we are also signed up with Celebrity for our next cruise, so will have our first chance to compare cruise lines.